Alma 2:20-38

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Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 2b / Verses 2:20-38
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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 2:20: Symbolic Justice in the Valley of Gideon. This verse demands a symbolic reading of a telling detail--the fact that the Nephites ended their pursuit of the Amlicites and enjoyed their apparent victory in the valley of Gideon. Ending there signifies justice. The underlying causus belli for this war was Nehor killing Gideon and Alma then executing Nehor. Nehor probably killed Gideon in this same valley, this being the place where Gideon and the people of Limhi settled. In his battle with Nehor, Gideon seemed to be the loser. But the fight between freemen and kingmen continues on a grander scale. And the freemen achieve victory in the very spot where the trouble began, the very spot where the good guy seemed to have lost. Thus, good tribumphs over evil. Gideon becomes a posthumous victor over Nehor, his opponent, when those who honor him drive from the field those who honor his enemy, Nehor.
  • Alma 2:24: Cardinal directionality in the Book of Mormon. The reference to Minon as being above Zarahemla is a subtle detail supporting the authenticity of Book of Mormon. The land of Minon is probably located between the land of Nephi from which the Lamanties would be coming and the land of Zarahemla. Thus Minon is probably south of Zarahemla. So south is described as being up or above. Why? In the Bible, people go up to Jerusalem no matter what direction they are coming from. The Book of Mormon replicates that pattern, but instead of Jerusalem, it is the land of Nephi that is the reference point. Having lived there for 400 years, the Nephite people regard the land of Nephi as the homeland of their hearts even when there is no prospect of their ever inhabiting it again. This way of thinking and describing directions is onsistent with the way Nephites would think but not with the way an American like Joseph Smith would think. (See Mosiah 20:7, 28:1, 5, 29:3; Alma 17:8, 20:2, 24:20, 26:23, 29:14 for examples of "up to the land of Nephi").
It is also possible that to say "go up to" literally meant an ascent uphill. It is noted that the head of the Sidon river was south of the land of Zarahemla in the border wilderness near the land of Manti. (Alma 22:27) This the land of Zarahemla must necessarily be at a lower elevation than the head of Sidon if the river flows from their past the city of Zarahemla through the land of Zarahemla.
  • Alma 2:24-25: Coordinated attack of Amlicites and Lamanites. The meeting and joining of the Amlicite and Lamanite armies is very unlikely to be by chance. At a minimum, the Lamanites have been informed that civil war has broken out in Nephite lands, making this an opportune time to attack. More likely, the Amlicites have previously arranged for the Lamanites to join them in their attack on the Nephite leaders in Zarahemla. We know that people (most likely disgruntled Mulekites) have been resisting the Nephite monarchy and dissenting over to the Lamanites for generations (Words of Mormon 1:12). We learn that the Amlicites (called Amalekites for reasons discussed in the exegesis of Alma 21:2) had joined with the Lamanites to build a city called Jerusalem in the land of Nephi. The inhabitants of that city are followers of Nehor and would have been upset by his execution. These Mulekite dissenters would have been effective mediators between Amlici and the Lamanite king. Given that this meeting was planned, the Nephites should count themselves fortunate (or more likely blessed) that the impatient Amlicites joined battle and were defeated before the arrival of their Lamanite allies. The army that now joins the Lamanites is much reduced by their defeat the day before.
It is also possible that the first battle was a diversionary tactic to draw the Nephite armies away from Zarahemlah leaving it open for conquest by the combined Amlicite/Lamanite force.
  • Alma 27-28: Hyperbole and the glory of God. Verse 27 speaks hyperbolically of the immense size and power of the combined army of Lamanites and Amlicites. Describing the enemy in this way elevates in verse 28 our repect for the faith exhibited by the smaller force of Nephites and our admiration for the power and blessings of God before whom such an army is nothing. In other words, 27 makes 28 all the more miraculous.
These two verses represent a way of thinking at odds with the scientific mindset of our day. This is seeing with the eye of faith. The key implicit assumption is that what matters in any situation is for it be seen correctly in spiritual/moral terms. To see correctly, one must recognize that God’s hand is always operative and should be looked for. The objective, scientific eye sees only material reality, a small force and larger one that is certain to triumph because of its magnitude. In this case, the eye of faith anticipates what science can’t: the victory for the smaller force. The smaller force triumphs because they have faith that God will deliver them (which makes them braver). Their eye of faith is an unseen force multiplier that turns the battle. Unbelievers have lower confidence in victory and greater fear of death. They are also motivated by a worse and less compelling cause (See Alma 43:45 - 47).
  • Alma 2:29: Alma one on one against Amlici. How did Alma come to face Amlici mano a mano? Their one-on-one encounter is somewhat mysterious because only a small part of the smaller Nephite force has crossed the river when the Lamanites attack. Alma was among first to cross, so he and a small group of Nephites face huge army of Amlicites/Lamanites. They seem to be easy pickings. And yet, the battle narrows to a hand to hand fight between Alma and Amlici.
  • Conjecture 1: Amlici initiates the one-on-one contest. Amlici may want to preserve the Nephite forces he plans to lead after getting rid of Alma. If he were confident in own superior prowess, he might have chosen a personal contest between the two leaders in spite of his overwhelming advantage in numbers. The Nephite army might, thus, remain fully intact following his defeat of Alma. He as king cold then lead a now preserved and unified people.
  • Conjecture 2: The good defensive position and superior armor of Alma and his personal guard may protect him from successful attack by ordinary soldiers. Perhaps only another similarly armored combatant would be in a position to dislodge a well clad Alma from some easily defended position. Brent Merrill raises this possibility in an essay, “Nephite Captains and Armies,” (see link below).
  • Alma 2:32: More face to face combat by leaders. The fact that the king of the Lamanites, like Amlici, personally contends with Alma indicates that norms dictated direct conflict between rival leaders, though people of lower status were also permitted to join the battle if called upon by their leaders. From this battle, Alma probably developed a reputation for military prowess. These verses may explain why the Zoramite poor come en mass to the hill Onidah, the place of arms, to ask Alma what they should do. What Alma does here may suggest that the poor Zoramites hope that Alma might lead them in a military uprising against their betters. But just as Alma will now reject politics and direct leadership of the army following this episode and embrace only the High Priest role with its spiritual duties, so Alma will reject the implicit appeal to lead a revolution and instead seek to create a transformation of individual souls through the gospel.
  • Alma 2:36: Effects of flight. Here again, as discussed above in the exegesis on verse 19, most of the battle losses occurred once line broke and the army began to flee.
  • Alma 2:37-38: Animal symbolism and the enemy. Writers of Book of Mormon generally and unsurprisingly include only significant details. Space is limited and they have much to communicate. We should, thus, ask what larger meaning is suggested in discussing what happened to Lamanites in Hermounts? The scattered Lamanites end up in a place known for wild and ravenous beasts. This detail is probably meant mainly to illustrate the ignomineous death of those who wrongly attacked the Nephites. They were devoured by ravenous animals, a fate suitable for animals, not for human beings. In other words, the Lamanites are subtley framed as being subhuman or at least as justly experiencing a fate that suits an animal but not a human being. In placing the fleeing Lamanites among the wild and ravenous beasts, the detail may also hint that they are a kind of wild, ravenous beast. Emphasizing their fate among the beasts is probably meant to accomplish the same thing as heaping up the Lamanite bones. Both serve as warnings to anyone tempted to make another assault on Zarahemla.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Alma 2:22: Why are we given the names of these four spies? Do we ever see their names again? How does this relate to other traditions of four brothers/spies/emissaries in the Book of Mormon (see commentary at Mosiah 7:6)?
  • Alma 2:22: This is the only person named Manti mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Since Nephite places at this time were named after their first settlers (Alma 8:7), is there a connection between this soldier Manti and the Hill Manti where Nehor was killed or the southernmost Nephite Land of Manti?
  • Alma 2:22: Seven years later, we read of a captian Zoram who leads an army "beyond the borders of Manti" (Alma 16:7). Is there a connection between this Zeram and that Zoram? Another seven years later, we read of a Zoram who leads the apostate Zoramites in the land of Antionum (Alma 31:1,3). Is there a connection between this Zoram and the previous one, and maybe Zeram?
  • Alma 2:30: What is significant about Alma’s prayer? How does his intent differ from that of Amlici?

Resources[edit]

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  • Alma 2:29. A. Brent Merrill offers a partial explanation for why Alma and Amlici face off one-on-one here.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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